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tv   The 11th Hour With Brian Williams  MSNBC  March 30, 2017 11:00pm-11:31pm PDT

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and president trump picks a fight with republicans, going after the freedom caucus for not having his back on health care, tonight, how are they likely to react to a frontal assault? the 11th hour begins now. "the 11th hour" begins right now. well, good evening once again from our headquarters here in new york. day 70 of the still young trump administration and already we have mention of the word immunity. the "wall street journal" first to report tonight that the president's former national security adviser, retired u.s. army three star general michael flynn, has told the fbi, the house intelligence committee, and the senate intelligence committee that he is willing to testify in the russia investigation in exchange for immunity. nbc has confirmed flynn made
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that offer to the senate intelligence committee. flynn, an adviser to the trump campaign turned national security adviser to the white house, resigned last month after misleading vice president pence about his conversations with russia's ambassador. flynn's lawyer released a statement. it reads in part. quote, general flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it should the circumstances permit. back in september, the issue of immunity came up when our own chuck todd was talking to michael flynn on "meet the press" about aides to hillary clinton. >> the very last thing john podesta said is no individual too big to jail. that should include people like hillary clinton. five people around hillary clinton have been given immunity to include her former chief of staff. when you are given immunity, that means you have probably committed a crime. >> point of information here,
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not true. immunity is also granted to innocent people. flynn's lawyer also said in his statement tonight, no reasonable person who has the benefit of advice from counsel would submit to questioning in such a highly politicized witch hunt environment without assurances against unfair prosecution. the by line on this story in "the wall street journal" shows it is the work of three journalists. carol lee among them. she joins us by telephone tonight. what is it exactly you were able to report? >> it's good to be with you. thanks for having me on. what we learned is that in recent days general flynn, through his lawyer, has had discussions with house and senate intelligence committee folks and the fbi about granting him immunity were he to cooperate and give testimony in these investigations. we don't know exactly what he has said he would talk about, and so far no one has taken him
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up on this as far as we can tell and his lawyer in his statement suggested that these conversations are ongoing, but they clearly -- either way if you step back and break it down, in minimum what he's saying is he will take the fifth if he is called on to testify unless he gets something out of it that he -- something that protects him from being prosecuted or being part of any criminal charges after he were to testify. so it's a pretty remarkable thing for a president's former national security adviser, as you said in your lead in. it was just a month ago that general flynn was serving in the white house. he was a top adviser to president trump during the campaign, but we don't know exactly what it is that he is -- it is obviously very tantalizing.
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the lawyer says that general flynn has a story to tell. we don't know exactly what story he's offering to tell at this point, but we do know that he would only testify or give testimony if he gets immunity. >> well, just an observation, you would only say that through counsel if you really mean it because this now deals with the feds. this deals with congressional investigators. very serious business. and this guy goes way back. remind our viewers how far back in this campaign when almost just the two of them. >> that's right. he was a very early supporter of president trump. he was a fixture on the campaign trail almost constantly. he, you know, was a very aggressive surrogate meaning he wasn't just defending trump. he was going after --
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he led a chant at the convention against hillary clinton saying "lock her up." and he also, going back even further, he served in the obama administration. he was one of the top intelligence officials in the obama administration until there was some tension that rose there when they had a falling out and he was let go. and then he we know over and eventually joined with the trump campaign. one of the closest advisers to the president, and he served in that position for a short time, but he certainly would have been in and around president trump, people involved in the campaign on a regular basis, if that what he is talking about in terms of having a story to tell because michael flynn has a lot of other pieces that the committees and the fbi are looking at. russia broadly intervention in the election, and michael flynn has ties to russia in the sense
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he has taken tens of thousands of dollars from government-sponsored companies or he took a large payment, around $30,000, from r.t., which is a state-sponsored media organization where he gave a speech and he sat at a table with vladimir putin. that was just in december of 2015, so there's a number of different ways. he's done consulting for foreign governments, including turkey. there's different ways in which -- reasons why he might want to talk to them or what his story might be. there's also a number of reasons why he might want immunity given the number of things that he's been involved in. we also do know that the fbi once interviewed him when it became -- the "wall street journal" wrote a story that his contacts with russian officials were under investigation. he obviously had said he did not
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talk with the russian ambassador about sanctions on this one particular day that he had a conversation and it turned out that he did, so the fbi has spoken to him. we don't really know the reason why he would be speaking immunity except for what his lawyer said or exactly his story is. >> carol lee, after a more than eventual day, thank you for joining us. we'll rook we'll look for your by line tomorrow, carol lee. let's bring in our panelists. "washington post" robert costa, associated press white house correspondent, julie pace, and former chief of staff to the cia and pentagon, jeremy bash. jeremy, we'll begin with you. let's speak plain english here. because we're talking about the first president of the modern era to kind of normalize the idea of russia and putin, more
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than to bend over backwards to avoid being critical or say nice things about both, if the fix had been in on russia, is this the guy who would know? >> he most certainly would. let's take a step back, brian. for the congressional committees to grant him immunity, they would have to coordinate closely with the justice department. because after all, it would be immunity from criminal prosecution. for the justice department to agree to give somebody like him immunity, it means they want him to turn and testify against someone higher up in the food chain. who is higher up in the food chain, higher than a national security adviser? there's really only one person. so this shows that the jeopardy of criminal liability actually extends all the way to the top. that's how serious this development is tonight, brian. >> so -- and just to put a finer point on this because you're the one here who want to harvard law school after all, he's got
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something for them. he would have to prove to their satisfaction that it's the truth. immunity is a big deal, and we're talking about three different jurisdictions. they would have to have enough for him to make it worth his while. >> they would want to have to make a deal with him. those folks who want to be amateur lawyers or arm chair lawyers should start downloading the immunity statutes. most importantly, brian, you have to look from the north and poindexter cases. those prosecutions were thrown out by the d.c. circuit and/or vacated. it is very hard to do this. you can only give somebody immunity, full immunity, if it's worth it.
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they have to believe that it's worth it in this case. >> we're happy to have julie pace on the broadcast tonight because her byline from the associated press at the white house is really the first draft of history of this administration. julie, having said that, with this development tonight, which really is weighty, can this administration these next couple of weeks really be about anything else? >> the white house keeps trying to make their young administration about anything other than russia, but they can't. and in part it's because of their own actions. if you think about what we've also been talking about today, we've been talking about people in the white house who passed intelligence information on to the chairman of the house intelligence committee. that's a self-created crisis for the white house, so in many ways they're the ones perpetuating this story. when it comes to michael flynn, it's going to be really difficult for this
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administration to put distance between the president and flynn because of all the names of trump associates we've heard over the last several months who could be tied up into this investigation, michael flynn is unique in this sense. he's the only one who has been by the president's side both in the campaign and transition and then in the white house. he was there only for a brief period of time, but he was there. he was in calls that the president was having. he was in the situation room, so he plays a key role in the arc of this story from essentially what we believe is the beginning. >> robert costa, we have 30 days to go before we reach that mythical first 100 day benchmark. we are already talking, as i said at the top of the broadcast, about this word immunity. it's kind of unbelievable when you look at the calendar. >> it is unbelievable a little bit. the reporting here is so important because we're trying
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to figure out what exactly happened when general flynn spoke with the russian ambassador, when he had different exchanges throughout the campaign with various figures in the foreign policy community. there are so many unanswered questions. when i talked to republicans today on the intelligence committee in both the house and the senate, they really want the general to sit down and engage with them, but they have not yet made a decision at the justice department whether he will get immunity. the lawyer for the general is floating the possibility, talking about the general having this compelling story to tell. >> jeremy, again in plain english, what's the list of possibles they have on flynn? >> well, that's a great question, brian, and it also can be reframed as immunity from what. what is he in jeopardy of being prosecuted for? first, i would say conspiring with a foreign power to provide them national defense or national security information.
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that's under the espionage act. that is a major felony, and that is essentially treason. that is the most serious matter. there are some lesser issues which came out at reporting at the "wall street journal" and others about conversations michael flynn had with turkish officials that were paying him during the campaign. he was an unregistered agent for the turkish foreign government up until recently. in those conversations, he was having discussions about possibly kidnapping this figure gulan who lives in pennsylvania, who is a dissident, who the erdowan government in turkey very much wants to have brought back for prosecution. flynn was talking to turkish officials about this. that is also a serious crime, and it would not surprise me at all if what the prosecutors have said to flynn's lawyers, we haven't reached any conclusions on the russian matter, but we have your guy for not registering under the laws requiring registration as a foreign agent and second of conspireing to engage in kidnapping. you better come in and make a deal.
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>> julie pace, there are other things around the margins. if he lied to the vice president about meetings with russians, if in interviews he lied to the feds, one of the first things you learn in washington in government or media is you don't lie to the feds. >> you definitely do not lie to the feds. this all started to spiral out of control for flynn when the justice department came to the white house in the very early days of the administration. sally yates came and said that they knew that flynn had not been truthful with the vice president. and that's when we saw the ball start to get rolling here. it appears as though if the justice department sent a message to flynn that he would need to register for the lobbying that could have benefitted the turkish government. that jeremy was talking about. we know mike flynn has talked to the fbi in the early days of the administration as well. we don't know if he has had subsequent conversations with them, but he is on record with
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the fbi on some matters and that is really important in the context of this conversation. >> robert, we have seen the white house in defensive mode. they're sitting on top of as of yesterday a 35% rate in the polls. they've been throwing mostly fastballs to the opposition. is this where we find out if they have a curveball, if they have a cutter, if they have anything else because this is going to change their daily stance no matter what mr. spicer contends from that podium going forward? >> so far many republicans, especially those in the white house, have resisted the suggestion about having an independent prosecutor. they've put the emphasis on congressional committees, but we have seen the controversy surrounding devin nunes. again, there's so many storms about russia.
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general flynn, the acquisition of information about russia and possible relationships within the trump administration. it's not clear based on my reporting whether the administration has a coherent strategy about how to handle this rush of activity, the frenzy of controversy. >> julie, let's not forget. you get to watch this more immediately than we do. it's not impossible that starting tomorrow from the podium we have already heard the attempted diminishment of manafort who was unimportant and was there for a temporary time. we could see an attempt to diminish general flynn. >> we certainly could. it's going to be a pretty ineffective argument if the white house tries to push that because of what i said earlier, which is flynn is one of those few people who has been by trump's side through every step of this process. spicer tried to claim that paul
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manafort played a limited role. that was pretty much discredited almost immediately. i just think it's going to be almost impossible for trump to put distance between himself and michael flynn. >> we mean this in the nicest way for our members of the panel. nobody move. we'll continue our conversation on this breaking story tonight. we'll also hop back onto the nunes intelligence trail to see where that took us today. a lot yet remains when "the 11th hour" continues.
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we are back. we'll continue with our panel. we're still reacting to the breaking news story tonight. the story broke in the "wall street journal." it is simply that michael flynn is willing to talk in exchange for immunity. before the break, in our first block tonight, as he often does, jeremy bash spoke english and got our attention when he reminded us any deal for immunity for a guy this big who had such an important office in the west wing, such an important role in the campaign, could only mean that they're trying to punch up in terms of a target about whom he would have useful information. and jeremy, his lawyer's statement tonight contained a bit of language we're not used to in dry legalese. again, you harvard law school, me, not so much. he said his client has a story to tell. that really got our attention.
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you don't say that loosely. >> i alighted on that comment as well, brian. that refers to the fact that mike flynn has largely been vilified in the press for one date, for december 29th, the day he had the conversation with ambassador kislyak, the russian ambassador, about how the united states and russia would jointly respond to the obama administration's sanctions in retaliation for russian interference in our election process. if he has a story to tell, which is what his lawyer has said tonight, it means he wants to describe the authorization he got. that's my theory. the authorization he got from above. did the president authorize him, the president-elect at the time, authorize him to be talking to the russians about that topic? >> also he comes into this administration, in this case, jeremy, this campaign and he's old enough to have been a cold warrior as a young soldier, comes into this kind of odd new normalization of all things russia and putin related.
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again, sake of argument, wouldn't someone have had to say to him, oh, on russia, here's the deal. here's why we say what we do about putin and russia and here's how to proceed. >> yeah. this is a little bit hard to know, and it's something that the senate and house intelligence committees are really going to have to get at. what is the origin of donald trump's stance on russia that essentially parrots vladimir putin talking points? we don't know that. we don't know if it is longstanding financial ties. we don't know if it's something else. some theory of international relations that only donald trump has. we don't know if it's something else. we also don't know whether or not mike flynn shared those theories or in some way was directed to have those theories from the guy he'd be served. >> and julie pace, i heard a long time former prosecutor tonight say that in the law there's a kind of term of art about immunity offerings. first one in the door usually gets the best deal.
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i hope i don't call for a judgment from you perhaps the chance that flynn is just the first and there are more. >> well, i did some checking with some of the other folks who have had their names swirling around here, people like roger stone and carter page. they so far say that they have not offered to testify in exchange for immunity and also just simply have not had those conversations yet. that said, we are really early in this process, and i think that's important to emphasize politically for the president. we're not talking about investigations that are going to blow over in a few weeks or even possibly a few months. whether there's something there in the end or not, this is going to hang over his administration potentially for years. and when you put that in the context of everything else that is happening, the failure on health care, the divisions in the republican party, that, i think, for the president is a really worrisome situation.
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again regardless of what the eventual outcome of the investigations is. >> we should remind folks the senate intelligence committee especially if they're going to enter any deal on immunity, is going to be sure that flynn is going to tell the truth, that he has something positive in return for what would be a big offer. robert costa spends way too much time on capitol hill. to that end, let me just -- before we talk to you -- introduce what was the other story today before this news about michael flynn tonight, this talk of immunity. it had to do with russia and the trump white house unbelievably, specifically these reports that white house officials gave gop intelligence chairman nunes an assist when he slipped into the white house grounds last week to view intelligence. those documents according to nunes may show that members of the trump team were somehow caught up in u.s. surveillance of foreign nationals. "the washington post" reports
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three senior white house officials are involved in this. one of them the top lawyer for the national security council. earlier in the day, "the new york times" got on the board, the first to reveal two white house officials helped nunes view the eyes-only material. "the times" story broke in time for today's white house briefing. >> sean, are you saying that it is not correct? >> i'm saying in order to comment on that story would be to validate certain things that i'm not at liberty to do. >> did the president direct anyone in this white house or the national security team to try to find information or intelligence to back up his
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assertion about wiretapping? >> i don't -- i'm not aware of anything directly. again, there's two sides of this. one is the information side. two is the policy and the activities and the legal piece of what happened. and i don't -- those are big buckets, if you will. >> so it's possible? >> i'm not going to comment on it. >> at today's briefing sean spicer also announced that the top democrats and republicans on both now remember the house senate and intelligence committees have been invited to the white house to see material tied to all of this, but it's not clear if it's the same documents nunes has been referring to. here's how the two top democrats on those committees at least reacted. >> the fact that sean spicer yesterday had no idea who may have been involved in that review by the chairman today they suddenly do raises a lot of very difficult questions for the white house. >> democrats and republicans alike on the senate side are still in the dark about what these so-called materials are.
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the white house said to come down and we said, no, bring those materials up here to the capitol. and candidly, talking to a number of people in the intel community, there's a lot of folks who say they don't know what those documents are as well. >> continues to be an unbelievable pace of news and developments. this new detail begs the question if white house officials helped nunes get this material so he could report back to the president, why did they need nunes as middle man? this is why we have robert costa standing by, who again spends way too much time up on capitol hill. robert, i have heard this called a post facto justification of what the president said on twitter. i was wiretapped by my predecessor. i've heard this called air cover so that the president can avoid apologizing for a tweet, and i've heard this called the white house orchestrating its own vindication.
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it is withering either way you look at it. >> it's a complicated situation. as i've been reporting, i've had frequent conversations with chairman nunes about his activities at the white house, trying to draw out information. he would not confirm sources, but there are at least three people at the white house who had access to the secure intelligence information. and what you have to understand about nunes, the dynamic here, is that he is close with a lot of people in the white house. he's close with president trump. he shares the belief there's a deep state that's angling against president trump. he believes people are leaking from president trump from the intelligence community. this is his position as chairman of the intelligence committee, so he's working with a lot of different people within that community to try to get information, figure out more. some of his sources are within the white house, and that raises flags for his critics. is he too close to the white house, even as committee chairman?
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is he doing too much, they ask, in the course of my reporting to engage with white house people, white house personnel in pursuit of information. >> julie pace, my clue tonight that this had gotten too much even for the most loyal trump surrogates was when jack kingston, the former member of congress from georgia, said on cable tonight, quote, i don't think they're organized enough to orchestrate this. in effect calling artillery in on the trump white house to say, no, they don't do that good a job, that this could have been planned out, but that's the extent of the response so far tonight. >> this is just a really bizarre situation because you have the white house initially saying that this whole idea that congressman nunes would have gotten this information from the white house then rushed back to the white house to brief the president about the information doesn't pass the smell test and